For near on 20 years I could hardly bear to listen to The Clash or any other punk records for that matter, for fear of reopening old wounds and memories of former conflicts. In 18 transformative months, the ravages of punk left an indelible mark on me that proved something of a curse, imbuing a righteousness and freedom of spirit that made it impossible for me to live happily within the confines of the machine, which ultimately most of us have to do.
And yet in the everlasting present of my teenage, I had followed The Clash religiously. From the winter of ‘76 until the summer of ’78 they played some of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen in towns like High Wycombe, Swindon, Bournemouth and Hastings; a manic, unstoppable force of pure, raw energy epitomising the hopes, fears and aspirations of an entire movement.
It couldn’t last and it didn’t, The Clash’s position as de facto leaders when The Pistols stalled in national outrage and hysteria impossible to maintain as punk buckled under the weight of its own contradictions, to which they would add quite a few of their own. Coming on like uber-social realists ready and willing to change the world, in truth they were just a bunch of misfits and music obsessives who cared enough to look outside their own immediate concerns while still wanting mainstream success. Such was the nature of the game even for punks, for whom all too often success represented failure.
I finally found the courage to lay the ghosts of my youth to rest in the mid noughties and reconnected with The Clash for the first time in two decades. Once I’d had my fill of all the old favourites, I revisited the tunes I’d virtually forgotten; side two of Give ‘Em Enough Rope and Combat Rock, sides three and four of London Calling and pretty much the whole of Sandinista.
What came across most powerfully in songs like ‘What’s My Name’, ‘All The Young Punks’, ‘I’m Not Down’ and left field genre experiments such as ‘The Sound Of The Sinners’ was The Clash’s extraordinary compassion and humanity. They provided life’s underdogs with such an articulate voice in their thrilling, fully formed critiques of society’s ills that often, when listening to their records, it was easy to forget that you were also soaking up information you would never have known otherwise, not to mention ska, reggae, rockabilly, soul, funk, touches of jazz and gospel, even electro.
How they managed such a fine balancing act without straying into preachiness or cheap sentiment is remarkable. Many have tried to replicate their alchemy of hope and revolutionary impulse but all have failed miserably, The Clash’s passion making every modern day bunch of so called rebel rockers look and sound as wretched as they so obviously are. The Clash still make me want to get off my arse, run out in the street and shout about the many wrong doings in this fucked up world of ours. The groups of today just make me want to check my pension plan.
01. What’s My Name (The Clash LP April 1977)
02. Protex Blue (The Clash LP April 1977)
03. 48 Hours (The Clash LP April 1977)
04. The Prisoner (Single B Side June 1978)
05. Drug Stabbing Time (Give Em’ Enough Rope LP November 1978)
06. Cheapskates (Give Em’ Enough Rope LP November 1978)
07. All The Young Punks (New Boots And Contracts) (Give Em’ Enough Rope LP November 1978)
08. Gates Of The West (Cost Of Living EP May 1979)
09. Jimmy Jazz (London Calling LP December 1979)
10. Koka Kola (London Calling LP December 1979)
11. I’m Not Down (London Calling LP December 1979)
12. Revolution Rock (London Calling LP December 1979)
13. Junco Partner (Sandinista LP December 1980)
14. Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice) (Sandinista LP December 1980)
15. Up In Heaven (Not Only Here) (Sandinista LP December 1980)
16. The Sound Of The Sinners (Sandinista LP December 1980)
17. The Call Up (Sandinista LP December 1980)
18. Washington Bullets (Sandinista LP December 1980)
19. Car Jamming (Combat Rock LP May 1982)
20. Overpowered By Funk (Combat Rock LP May 1982)
21. Atom Tan (Combat Rock LP May 1982)